'Marshall Plan' for Africa Depends on G8 Backing
Fri Mar 11, 8:56 AM ET  
World - Reuters

By Andrew Cawthorne

LONDON (Reuters) - An ambitious Africa recovery plan sponsored by
British Prime Minister Tony Blair challenged the rich world on Friday
to end "appalling" trade protectionism and stump up an extra $25
billion a year in aid.

But the widely trailed Africa Commission report faced a daunting task
to gain acceptance from the G8 group of rich nations and win over
skeptics who saw it as nothing new.

"African poverty and stagnation is the greatest tragedy of our time,"
said the 464-page report by the commission, which includes Blair, his
finance minister, several African leaders and Irish rocker turned
campaigner Bob Geldof.

Its promoters liken the multitude of recommendations -- on improving
governance and ending wars in Africa, plus providing better aid, debt
relief and trade rules from the West -- to the post-World War
II "Marshall Plan" for recovery in Europe.

"Let us today pledge to make 2005 the year our eyes opened to the
full reality of Africa," Blair said at a London launch for the plan.

"To the horror of its daily and preventable death toll, to the
grinding misery of so many millions of its people, yet also to the
hope that together we can change that reality for the better."

Critics, however, said the report's lofty words would go the same way
as previous Africa plans unless rich nation groups like the G8 and
the European Union, both of which Britain chairs this year, put their
money where their mouths are.

Immediate reaction from Africa, where some view the plan as a way for
Blair to recoup public relations damage caused by his Iraq policy,
was skeptical.

While South African President Thabo Mbeki said he hoped the
report "will indeed serve the purpose for which it was intended"
Madagascar economics lecturer Airy Ramiarison suggested rich
countries "just stick to the promises they have already made."

Pete Ondeng', head of a private body mobilizing resources for a home-
grown African economic plan, called it "a slap in the face of
Africa," adding: "There is nothing that you can tell me that hasn't
been thought through before."

Western charities were cautious too. Britain's ActionAid called the
recommendations "an ambitious but realistic agenda" but said: "The
first real test will be whether it is acted upon at the G8 leaders'
Gleneagles summit (in Scotland) in July."

A central plank for funding the plan -- the British-proposed
International Finance Facility (IFF) to borrow against future aid
pledges -- has already drawn U.S. opposition.


The report called for a vast increase in aid to Africa -- an extra
$25 billion a year until 2010, and $50 billion annually thereafter.

A commission source said a third of that could be financed from
within Africa, based on recommended reforms hoped to achieve 7
percent economic growth by 2010.

"Practical proposals should be developed for innovative financing
methods such as international levies on aviation," the report said,
in a nod to proposals from French President Jacques Chirac for an
international tax to fight AIDS.

Another proposal was to end over the next decade rich country trade
barriers and agricultural subsidies, which the commission lambasted
for creating "appalling levels of developed country protectionism."

The report published on the commission's Web site
www.commissionforafrica.org also called for 100 percent debt write-
offs, an arms treaty to regulate weapons flow into Africa, punishment
for bribe-payers, and repatriation of stolen funds.

But it did not absolve African leaders. "Weak governance has blighted
the development of many parts of Africa ... Corruption is a systemic
challenge," it said.

Blair pledged to promote the report during Britain's presidency of
the G8 throughout 2005 and of the EU in the second half of the year,
and at a U.N. summit in September and a World Trade Organization 
meeting in December.

"I fear the judgment of future generations when history properly
calculates the gravity of the suffering around us," he said. "I fear
those generations asking this question -- how could wealthy people,
so aware of such suffering, so capable of acting, simply turn away
and busy themselves with other things?"